The Yard by Alex Grecian is out today and I was lucky enough get Alex to answer a few of my questions about his new book (of course), what inspires him, and other fun stuff, so please welcome Alex to the blog!
Alex, you had a successful advertising career. What made you take the plunge and write a novel?
My son was born. I was, frankly, miserable in advertising and I realized that I didn’t want my son to grow up and settle in any way. I wanted him to go after whatever he really wanted in life and I wanted him to feel like anything is possible. The best way to make sure of that was to do it myself, so he could see it happen (if I was lucky). My wife believed in me and supported me all the way. And we got Penguin’s offer for The Yard eight years to the day after I quit my advertising job, so my son’s old enough to understand what’s happening and what it means.
How did you celebrate when you found out The Yard would be published?
I took my family to dinner at the best restaurant in this area and bought their most expensive bottle of champagne.
Also I got a cell phone.
The Yard takes place in the 1800s. What fascinates you the most about that time period?
Victorians were in love with science. Even illiterate street sweepers stayed up-to-date with the scientific advances of the day. By that point in time, they’d discovered germs, fingerprinting, color photography, etc. But, at the same time, they were deeply superstitious and locked into outdated ideas about class and custom. It was an entire culture that was trying to believe contradictory things about itself. That makes it a rich period in history to write about. An almost unending treasure chest of interesting story ideas.
What kind of research did you do for The Yard?
I bought and read every book I could find about the time period, studied train schedules and maps from 1889, went to Victorian-era homes and museums to look at furnishings and appliances up-close. For six months, while I was finishing the book, I wouldn’t read or watch anything that wasn’t set in Victorian England. The upside was that I had entire seasons of Breaking Bad and Mad Men waiting for me when I finished The Yard.
Do you plan to write more books featuring The Murder Squad?
Yup. I’m hard at work on the sequel, called The Black Country. In it, the three main characters from The Yard travel to a small village in the Midlands where a family has disappeared and a human eyeball’s been found in a bird’s nest. It’s a bit spooky. I’ve got a third Yard novel all worked out and I can’t wait to get to it, too.
You also wrote a very successful graphic novel series called Proof, featuring John Prufrock a special-agent-sasquatch. What were some of the biggest differences in graphic novel writing and novel writing?
I enjoy both. Writing a graphic novel is harder for me because of the formatting restrictions. Each chapter is twenty-two pages long and ends with a cliffhanger. If I’m writing a bit of dialogue, I have to stop after every two or three lines to indicate the next panel, which gives the entire process a sort of staccato rhythm that I find counter-intuitive. But the advantage is that I have to do less research. The artist is co-creating the story with me and is responsible for the imagery, so it’s nice to be able to lean on him or her.
What are some of your biggest literary influences?
The first book I can remember loving and reading more than once as a kid was Dickens’s Great Expectations. I think it had a profound effect on me. But I loved the Sherlock Holmes stories, too, and Tarzan and Dracula. (Edgar Rice Burroughs was clearly a big influence on me, since Proof is really just a reversal of Tarzan: an ape-like creature is raised by humans and discovers he doesn’t really fit in anywhere.) When I was quite a bit older I read John Irving’s The World According to Garp and decided I wanted to have T.S. Garp’s lifestyle (or parts of it, at least) when I grew up. He stayed at home with his children, wrote books and cooked dinner for his family every night. I’m a big fan of crime fiction: Ross MacDonald, John MacDonald, Raymond Chandler, Donald Westlake, Lawrence Block, etc. Probably the biggest influence on me, though, is Graham Greene, my favorite writer. We named our son after him.
If you could read one book again for the first time, which one would it be, and why?
Probably The Great Gatsby. I know that book’s fallen out of favor recently, but the themes are incredibly accessible. I know that’s the reason some folks look down on it now, but that book was a revelation to me. I read it over and over in high school and college the way some kids read Catcher In the Rye. (But maybe I’d choose The Quiet American. Can I have two books?)
What are you reading now?
I just started rereading Richard Stark’s Parker series. I’m halfway through The Man with the Getaway Face right now. And I’m reading a lot of Victorian research material. And reading Hunger Games at bedtime to my son.
When you’re not busy writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
I read a lot. I’m a film buff. I travel. I help my son, Graham, build Lego models. I cook.
What is your tarantula’s name?
The tarantula actually belongs to Graham, and it took him a long time to persuade us to let him get one, but we’re warming up to her. I’ve let her crawl on me once now. Her name’s Rosie and she just molted again. She’s getting bigger all the time.
What’s one piece of advice that you would give to a struggling writer?
Stick with it. I just read a great quote the other day: “Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” – Anonymous.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!!)?
I’ll be in Houston, Phoenix, and Kansas City, among other cities in June. Please come and see me talk about The Yard. I’m not especially afraid of public speaking, but I’m deathly afraid of speaking to empty rooms.